Over the past few weeks, a lot of attention has been paid to the Tampa Bay Rays and, more specifically, the injuries and struggles that have left them at 28-45, the worst record in Major League Baseball.
The theory went that, since the team had high expectations, but so far has struggled to stay healthy and competitive, that they might be motivated to jettison a few ancillary pieces to restock the system and make a run at it next year. It is a tale as old as time, or at least as old as the baseball trading season.
New reports suggest a different story, particularly around some of the key pieces that were thought to have been available just a short time ago. As Jayson Stark writes:
if [the Rays] think they have the pieces in place to win next year and beyond, with most of those pieces under team control for years, they'd be a lot less inclined to hit the implode button than the outside world seems to be theorizing. And that appears to be exactly how they're looking at this group.
So here's our advice: Ignore all the talk you hear about fire sales or major housecleaning. Teams that have spoken with the Rays believe that's extremely unlikely.
Specifically, the Rays would find it very hard to let go of utility Wunderkind Ben Zobrist, as he fits the team's needs so exceptionally and has another year at a discount price left on his deal. The second baseman/outfielder/sous chef/third baseman can conform to so many different roles while still performing at an exceptionally high level, making him a rare breed of utility player. If Billy Butler were The Monitor, Ben Zobrist would be The Anti-Monitor. And though his desire for destroying worlds and mankind as we know it is still in question, he could probably slide into that role if the Rays needed him to.
David Price is never fully off the table, in the sense that he has been on the table since last winter, but he also has another year of team control. He currently has a 12:1 K/BB ratio, which is an unseemly number not to be shared in the presence of mixed company.
Stark was quick to mention that the Rays would surely be listening on players such as David DeJesus and Jeremy Hellickson, an injured outfielder and pitcher who hasn't seen the majors this season (and had a 5.17 ERA in 2013) And while DeJesus should hold some intrigue for teams looking for a left-handed hitting outfielder (he currently sports a .269/.367/.440 line, hitting almost exclusively against right-handed pitching), Hellickson has never been particularly appealing, considering he has outperformed his FIP with mediocre peripherals before regression caught up to him last year.
But while it's a nice gesture on behalf of the Rays to pull the steak off of the table and replace it with a tub of Lloyd's, nobody wants Lloyd's. Price and Zobrist are the baubles of desire, as far as this trade season is concerned. Their availability has some rippling effects throughout the rest of the market. If Price isn't moved, the sticker for Samardzija goes up considerably. If Zobrist is out, teams will have to look elsewhere to fit their needs.
As of now, though, it would appear that the Rays are more inclined to stand pat than to burn it down and walk away.